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Falwell honored as giant figure in 'culture war'

Rev. Jerry Falwell on NBC’s Meet the Press

Republican presidential candidates were among American leaders who hailed Rev. Jerry Falwell as one of the most significant figures of his generation.

Falwell, who had a history of heart problems, died yesterday after he was found unconscious in his office at Liberty University, which he founded in 1971 in Lynchburg, Va.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he had known Falwell since the mid-1970s and spoke at Liberty University last fall.

“He was one of Christendom’s great leaders who stood by his convictions and never lost his common touch,” Huckabee said. “Many did not know about his sense of humor and compassion for people from all walks of life.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the scheduled feature speaker at the university’s commencement Saturday.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who spoke at last year’s commencement, said his prayers were with Falwell’s family.

“Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country,” McCain said.

Another presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, said, “An American who built and led a movement based on strong principles and strong faith has left us.”

“He will be greatly missed, but the legacy of his important work will continue through his many ministries where he put his faith into action,” Romney said in a statement. “Ann and I have had the honor to talk and meet with Reverend Falwell and get to know him as a man of deep personal faith and commitment to helping those around him. He will be forever remembered.”

President Bush said he and First Lady Laura Bush were “deeply saddened by the death of Jerry Falwell, a man who cherished faith, family, and freedom.”

“As the founder of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, Jerry lived a life of faith and called upon men and women of all backgrounds to believe in God and serve their communities,” the president said in a statement. “One of his lasting contributions was the establishment of Liberty University, where he taught young people to remain true to their convictions and rely upon God’s word throughout each stage of their lives.

“Today, our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Macel and the rest of the Falwell family.”

Evangelist Pat Robertson called Falwell a “tower of strength on many of the moral issues which have confronted our nation.”

Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson, said Falwell’s “passions and convictions changed the course of our country for the better over the last 20 years – and I was proud to call him my friend.”

“It was Jerry who led an entire wing of Christianity, the fundamentalist wing, away from isolation and into a direct confrontation with the culture,” Dobson said. “In the late 1970s, he began making it respectable for Christian pastors to talk from the pulpit about the evil of abortion, simply because he did so on his television program and in his printed communications. Until he led the way, the common response from conservative pastors was to say that abortion is a matter best left to a woman and her doctor.”

Dobson said that because Falwell and his Moral Majority “were the first ones out of the trenches in the culture war, they got shot at repeatedly by the national media and by liberal church leaders.”

“But he always weathered the onslaught, permanently stamping the conservative American church with respectability on social action,” Dobson said.

“It was my honor to share the front lines with him in the battle for righteousness in our nation. We will continue that fight, in his honor, until our mutual goals are achieved.”

Beverly LaHaye, founder and chairman of Concerned Women for America, regarded Falwell as a “long-time dear friend who had a tremendously positive impact on America.”

“His bold leadership helped change the course of evangelical engagement in the public square,” LaHaye said. “Dr. Falwell made big dreams reality – by inspiring millions to political involvement, by dedicating himself to higher education, and most importantly, by fostering Christian outreach to the spiritually and physically needy through Thomas Road Baptist Church and its myriad ministries.”

Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, said he had the “opportunity to meet this human dynamo of Christian leadership on several occasions and I am better for it.”

Thompson said Falwell was a supporter of the Law Center.

“His legacy will continue and it is up to each of us to continue his work in our own way,” Thompson said. “We are left to exude the courage, dignity and religious leadership he taught us.”

Michael Farris, homeschool movement leader and chancellor of Patrick Henry College, said Falwell was “an inspiring leader, a loyal friend and a stalwart champion of that which is right and true and pure.

“He will be missed, but because he devoted so many years of his life to training young people to become champions for Christ, there are thousands that he trained ready to help continue his work and honor his legacy.”

Farris said Falwell’s critics will undoubtedly remind the nation of times when he misspoke or made mistakes.

“But from my vantage point,” Farris said, “he was playing in the major leagues of the public square – the battle for the ideas that shape America. The number of things he got right dwarfs any mistakes.”

Catholic League president Bill Donohue said, “Falwell did more to mobilize evangelicals than any other leader in the nation.”

“He not only inspired them to become active politically, he encouraged them to rethink their positions on a host of issues, especially abortion and school choice,” Donohue added.

Noting Falwell welcomed Catholics into the Moral Majority, Donohue called him “a great fighter in the culture wars.”

“He was both an exemplary evangelical and a renowned social activist, always exuding the kind of moral courage so often lacking in religious leaders of all faiths,” Donohue said. “He will be sorely missed.”

Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, said when “most of the evangelical community was asleep” in the 1970s, Falwell “masterfully integrated Christian ethics and political duty in a way that resonated with evangelicals.”

“As a result, millions of evangelicals entered the political fray with great passion,” Terry said. “The supreme result from these efforts was the election of Ronald Reagan.”

Terry said one of Falwell’s “great gifts was his ability to have an ecumenical political front; fundamentalists, evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews and biblically sound mainline Protestants work side-by-side for the election of Ronald Reagan, both presidents Bush, and a host of candidates at the local, state and federal level.”

Brian E. Fisher, executive vice president of Coral Ridge Ministries, the broadcast outreach of Dr. D. James Kennedy, said Falwell’s death “has brought to a sudden close the life of one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 20th century.”

Fisher said Kennedy held Falwell “in the highest regard for his Christian witness and moral leadership for the nation.”

“Infectiously good-humored, witty, energetic, and an unapologetic advocate for the return of biblical morality to American life, Dr. Falwell was a true Christian statesman,” Fisher said. “He leaves an enduring legacy of leadership for the Gospel, Christian education, and Christian moral engagement in American public life.”

Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council in Washington, D.C., and chairman of the Committee on Church and Society for the Evangelical Church Alliance, called Falwell a “bold, unapologetic, uncompromising voice for biblical truth that pushed the envelope and challenged secular culture to its limits.”

“He was a great inspiration to younger leaders like myself,” Shenck said. “Jerry Falwell’s legacy will long outlast him, but many of us will miss him as a father in the faith and a religious Dutch uncle.”

Guy Adams, director of ValuesUSA, said Falwell did much for the nation.

“When we needed a man to be on point, Rev. Falwell was there,” he said.

“When we lost our values, he pointed the way. When we looked for a hero, he was already there, working.”

Media Research Center president Brent Bozell said Falwell was a “great leader” who “gave his heart and soul to his family, his faith and his country.”

“His inspiring presence and moral insight will be greatly missed,” Bozell said.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said Falwell “deserves the thanks of the American Jewish community for his stalwart and incessant support of the state of Israel, its security, and its right to defend itself.”

Boteach said, however, he took exception with Falwell’s view that “only those who believe in Jesus could gain entry into heaven and that Jews, therefore, who lead moral and religious lives but reject a belief in Christ would experience damnation.”

Boteach said Falwell reasserted these views in an interview with WND in 2006, rebutting an published report in the Jerusalem Post that quoted him as saying that Jews without Jesus could be saved.

But the rabbi said that in his debates with Falwell, the minister “remained the consummate Southern gentleman, polite to a fault” and “he will be missed.”

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